Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve Day Reflections. Best Poems of 2013.

Twenty-thirteen Day Three Hundred Sixty-five
Michael Sedano

Sunday through Saturday, La Bloga arrives daily on your virtual driveway with a ¡tlac! when you click that link bringing you here. Thank you for reading La Bloga.

In 2013, La Bloga completed our ninth year of daily publication, having met with over 975,000 readers in that time, who've looked at one and a half millon pages. This doesn’t count the eyes reading numerous mirror sites and aggregators who pick up our columns to run on their own feed. Interest in Chicana Chicano, Latina Latino literature, cultura, y más extends around the globe!

The eleven writers of La Bloga extend our wishes to you for vigorous health and awesome opportunities in 2014. We're here every day, reporting from Los Angeles, Kansas City, Lincoln, Phoenix, Denver, Santa Barbara, Pasadena:
Sunday: Amelia M.L. Montes and Olga Gárcia Echeverría
Monday: Daniel Olivas and Xánath Caraza
Tuesday: Michael Sedano
Wednesday: René Colato Laínez and Lydia Gil
Thursday: Ernest Hogan’s Chicanonautica
Friday: Manuel Ramos and Melinda Palacio
Saturday: Rudy Ch. Garcia

La Bloga welcomes Guest Columnists. If you have a book review, a cultural report, an extended response to a La Bloga column, we welcome your work. Click the mug shots at the top of the page, or here, to email your inquiry. Eight of La Bloga's eleven regular columnists started as Guest Columnists.

Consejos for the New Year

I send along the following consejos for the new year, in lieu of New Year Resolutions:
  • You deserve more. How much is up to you.
  • View "problems" as opportunities; this way you'll find ways to fix what's not satisfactory and define your own outcomes.
  • Have a plan, work the plan. If you fail, understand why, rather than be a clueless winner.
  • With the right tools, you can do anything.
  • It's the "U" in "fun" that counts.

My Favorite Column of 2013

May 7, Lupe of Happy Valley (click for link)

I’m a photographer whose memory holds onto the time and place of the good ones. It’s a treat to look at a photograph and remember the day, the light, the feel of the lens, the conversation with subjects. The twin murals in Happy Valley I photographed in the 1970s stayed with me.

Back then, I was still new to LA and stumbled across a road behind Lincoln High School that led me to a retaining wall back in the hills. Two murals were in progress, one of la Virgen, the other of Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. While photographing the murals, two kids, teenagers, emerged to chat with me and agreed to have their portrait taken. I never got their names but their images remained vivid in mind. Every so often, I'd think about that wall, those kids, the baby in another foto.

What has become of these people, forty years after I snapped the shutter? I’d love to be able to give them a print of the foto, for my own sentimental value if not theirs.

This year I returned to the intersection to find Mary in tragic disrepair, el Huiclamina and his dead girlfriend painted over, the home where the teenagers lived an uninhabitable derelict.

Wonder of wonders, someone recognized the teenagers in the foto. “This is Marty and Gilbert Morales,” a Facebook viewer wrote, then another joined the conversation, and another. A bit of repartée engaged among the three people, on Marty’s fate.

A sad fact emerged, “Marty passed away 2/18/2013.” Three months later, I would run the Lupe of Happy Valley column.

I hope to find these adults in 2014 and give them a souvenir of their brother, qepd, and themselves. That would be picture perfect.

The Gluten-free Chicano’s Favorite Column of 2013

Being gluten intolerant is puro bad news no matter how you parse it, yet there’s a silver lining, in that The Gluten-free Chicano’s native diet, Mexican and Chicano food, is in large degree, normally and naturally gluten free.

Now, this is not to say gluten-afflicted gente can just order away at a restaurant. Sadly, almost every Mexican restaurant from El Lay to El Paso, Alburque to Phoenix, uses wheat flour to thicken red and green chile sauce. That should be against the law, and for sure, it's a sin, but there it is, wheat in the comida is ubiquitous, and everywhere, too.

Throughout 2013, The Gluten-free Chicano shared numerous recipes, from the naturally GF nopales y tortas de camarón, to a zucchini tortilla offered as a suitable analog for flour tortillas.

Last January 21, The Gluten-free Chicano featured menudo because, owing to the frequency of pachangas at this time of year, the table often includes, or should, a big steaming pot of menudo. And, for those who indulge heavily in spirits of the season, forget the hair of the tail, serve up a big hearty bowl of menudo for la cruda.

On-line Floricanto: Best Poems of 2013

Since 2010, La Bloga’s On-line Floricanto has been a reader favorite. In years past, Francisco X. Alarcón and his co-moderators of the Facebook group Poets Responding to SB 1070 Poetry of Resistance, nominated five poets for the weekly honor. Late this year, Alarcón’s team elected to go monthly with their nominations.

La Bloga sees this as a golden opportunity to spotlight the work of individual poets. In 2013, La Bloga On-line Floricanto enjoyed the immense honor of sharing the work of six of the nation’s best poets, Edward Vidaurre, Carmen Calatayud, Luivette Resto, Iris de Anda, Nancy Aidé Gonzalez, and Jessica Ceballos.

Each poet selects five pieces to illustrate the scope and beauties of her or his work, often from a recent book, or current chapbook. The results have been enchanting and unparalleled, earning a collective “Best Poems of 2013" for each of the poets and poems.

Edward Vidaurre 9/24

Carmen Calatayud 10/8

Luivette Resto 10/15

Iris de Anda 10/29

Nancy Aidé Gonzalez 11/12

Jessica Ceballos 12/10

Monday, December 30, 2013

Puebla de los Ángeles

By Xánath Caraza

For this occasion, I am excited to share with everyone the cover of my new chapbook, Noche de colibríes: Ekphrastic Poems (pandora lobo estepario Press, 2014), a recap about my poetry presentation in the city of Puebla de los Ángeles in the state of Puebla in Mexico, about my visit to La Biblioteca Palafoxiana, and one personal pendiente to read my short story about La China Poblana at her actual house in Puebla.  In addition, I want to wish everyone a happy end to 2013 and all the best for the upcoming New Year 2014. 
As for the year’s end and our new year, personally, I feel thankful for such an incredible 2013.  For me, it’s true that I’m always busy, as most of us all, and I love simple details in the rush of a hectic day, such as enjoying a sunset, listening to my mother on the phone or reading a text message from my father. 

Noche de colibríes: Ekphrastic Poems

I cannot stop thanking all my editors, TL Press, Mammoth Publications, Mouthfeel Press and pandora lobo estepario press, for the great support of my work.  I’m happy to see finally my first short story collection in print, Lo que trae la marea/What the Tide Brings (Mouthfeel Press, 2013).   I’m also excited about my new poetry collections, a chapbook, Noche de colibries: Ekphrastic Poems (pandora lobo estepario press, 2014), and a full length book of poetry, Sílabas de viento, both up-coming in 2014.  

Several friends have asked me what I’ve been working on lately, and at the moment I’m giving the final touches to my second short story collection, not sure about the title yet, I have two in mind, but I will certainly keep everyone posted on this development. 

La poesía en Puebla

At Colegio D’Amicis in the greater area of Puebla, Puebla, Mexico, I was invited to present some of my poetry on December 16, 2013 by and along with poet, Javier Gutierrez Lozano. In addition to reading our own poetry, we read the poems of the finalist for the first Concurso de Poesía D’Amicis (poetry contest). 
The sizeable audience that attended our poetry reading notably impressed me.  The 120 seats available were filled and there was standing room only.  However, learning the event was voluntary for students came as a significant surprise to me because of such wonderful attendance.  The event was open to the public too, in addition to parents and several of Javier’s friends. 

Immediately after reading our poetry, we had a Q&A session and I was deeply moved by the observations and questions by the young audience.  For example, several young women were deeply moved by my poem “Sihualt/Mujer”, from my book Conjuro (Mammoth Publications, 2012), since they felt a strong connection to the central theme of women’s rights in this poem.  Several students wanted to know more about “Yanga” and its rhythms in the poem itself.  Additionally, “Yanga” was moving for one particular student who noted his family connections to the regions of Mexico where African ancestry has been more visible.

With regard for the school administration involved in the Concurso and reading, I had the opportunity to meet Cristina Montes de Oca, President of the Colegio, and Cristina González Mayorga, High School Principal. I’d like to take a chance to thank them for their support for this event and for what I understand is the beginning of an annual poetry contest and poetry reading.  I’m looking forward to see the development of this important event. 

Of the school faculty, congratulations Javier for your hard work and for developing the Concurso and reading.  It’s wonderful to see your idea come to fruition.  

Other sponsors of the Concurso were Valparaíso Ediciones, FIP, Revista Reflejo, Círculo de Poesía and, representando también, La Bloga. 

La Biblioteca Palafoxiana

One of the several reasons I wanted to go to Puebla was to visit La Biblioteca Palafoxiana.  Previously, I had tried on three different occasions over the last several years to visit and was unable due to closures because of renovations.  Finally on December 17, 2013, I was able literally to walk through la Biblioteca Palafoxiana where it has been since its beginnings.  

Historically, La Biblioteca Palafoxiana was founded in 1646 by Juan Palafox y Mendoza.  It was the first public library in the Americas. It is located in the Antiguo Colegio de San Juan in Puebla proper. In 2005, it was declared by UNESCO as part of the Programa Memoria del Mundo.  I certainly enjoyed this treasure of Mexico.

El cuento: “China Poblana” 

One of my other personal motivations to visit Puebla was to be able to sit in the house of La China Poblana and read my short story, “China Poblana” from my short story collection, Lo que trae la marea/ What the Tide Brings (Mouthfeel Press, 2013).  So, I did, and for that reason I’m also thankful.  

Esto es todo por hoy.  Wishing everyone lo mejor para este Nuevo año, 2014.  Peace and much creativity.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

And the 2013 Best Homemade Mexican Tamal Award Goes To…

Olga García Echeverría

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as unwrapping and gorging on steaming tamales on Christmas Eve. Toasting them on a hot comal or frying them in a cazuela the following days is also part of the tamal tradition. But anyone who’s ever been part of a tamaleada, knows that making tamales is no joke. It’s at least a two-day production and it takes a village because if you’re going to make tamales, the unspoken rule is that you must make hundreds. 

Why do we insist on making so many tamales? Maybe we do it to feed everyone we love. Maybe it’s our need to bond. Maybe we want a damn good, homemade tamal and we don’t want to risk buying a bad or mediocre one. Maybe we do it to preserve las recetas de nuestra familia or to create new ones. Maybe we want to prove we’re really Mexican. Or maybe we do it because beneath all the layers, we are simply masa. 

For those of us who grew up in a tamal-making culture or family, December is the Holy Month of Masa. ‘Tis the season for tamales. It’s true that in some ways it’s always tamal season in LA. These ancient, culinary, hoja-wrapped bundles can be found year-around on barrio street corners, parking lots, panaderías, super mercados and restaurants. In the City of Angels, tamales nunca faltan. 

Yet, those of us who have masa in our DNA know that regardless of how ubiquitous tamales have become in Los Angeles, a real good tamal is really hard to find. Whether homemade or not, tamales usually suffer from some type of masa issue. The masa is too thick. The masa is too dry. The masa is too hard. The masa is too flan-like. The masa lacks sabor. The ratio of masa to filling is highly unbalanced. Or the masa is just not masa. (Side note: corn masa across the board is most likely genetically modified, which is a masa issue so big in scope that it requires its own separate and future blog). 

In my opinion, the worst tamales are the mass produced ones at Latino supermarkets and restaurants. The most disappointing tamal I ever tasted was from a well-known Mexican restaurant in East LA that actually “specializes” in tamales. I recall having this restaurant’s tamales as a child and yeah, they were pretty good, but overproduction transformed the once delicious, homemade fluffy masa into a thick, chewy, frozen and reheated mess. Massacre of the Masa. 

Street tamales are hit and miss. Sometimes they’re okay for the purpose at hand--a quick, inexpensive meal that satisfies hunger on the go. But would I order them for Christmas dinner? Probably not. A couple of years ago, I bought some excellent pollo con chile verde tamales from a woman in the parking lot at the local Home Depot. She was from Sinaloa, and she was selling her steaming creations out of a Styrofoam ice-chest in her car. Shhht! Shhhht! ¿Quieres tamales? Later at home, I peeled them open and admired the masa texture. They were spicy and scrumptious. I went back soon after to order more, but she was gone. I have yet to see this fabulous tamal-making Sinaloense again. 

When my father died this past September, my siblings and I ordered tamales for his wake from a neighborhood señor and señora. This couple, originally from Tlaltenango, Zacatecas, sells tamales out of their home and by barrio word-of-mouth. My eldest sister, Anna, who knows a good tamal when she eats one, described this couple’s tamales as “really good,” and that was enough to convince the rest of us to purchase them for my father’s despedida. Like crazy Mexicans, we ordered 400 tamales. There were only about 100 people, including children, at my father’s services, but the Tlaltenango tamales were a smash. They all disappeared, and even the old-school, hardcore tamal-makers from the Mother Country gave their seal of approval, which was comforting, since my father really loved to eat and he would have been happy that we were celebrating the end of his life with real good Mexican tamales.

Our Family with a Big Picture of My Father, Who Loved Tamales: Photo taken by Maritza Alvarez
We were so pleased with the Tlaltenango tamales that we ordered them for Christmas. But as we peeled open our corn husks, we saw that something was different--the masa was thicker and a bit waxy. The meat filling also had more flame than flavor. They were, in the end, still decent tamales, but they were definitely not as great as the last batch we had purchased. What could have happened to the once exquisite Tlaltenango tamales? Too many Christmas orders for the couple?

In short, buying tamales is risky business, especially on special occasions, and good tamales are hard to come by. This is why so many Latinos go corn-husk and banana-leaf crazy over the holidays, roll-up their mangas, put on their aprons and make their own batches. I admire and respect these tamal troopers, which brings me to the title of this blog. I ate a lot of tamales in 2013--green chile, red chile, pollo, rajas, elote, mole, tamales en hoja de platano, tamales en hierba santa, tamales con hoja de aguacate, and the list goes on. Of all the tamales I devoured in 2013, The Best Homemade Mexican Tamal Award goes to (drum roll)….

East Los Angeles Homegirl, Escritora, and Attorney at Law, Sandra C. Muñoz

and her primo, Miguel Campos,
AKA The Tamal Whisperer

Miguel Campos sitting in front of his tamales

For the past few years, my girlfriend and I have made it a tradition to visit Sandra C. Muñoz in East LA and eat some of her family’s tamales before heading over to Christmas dinner at my sister’s. Blood may be thicker than water, but it is not thicker than corn masa. 

Sandra’s primo, Miguel Campos, who Sandra refers to as The Tamal Whisperer, prepares the masa and makes the traditional tamales of chile rojo con puerco. When I asked Sandra what is the secret to their delicious tamales, she said they buy masa preparada at Superior or Super A like most people, but then they add “other ingredients.” Other ingredients is code for more manteca.  “It’s all in balancing the masa and the filling,” says Sandra, “and you also have to know how to spread the masa just right so that when it cooks and you open the tamal, a thin layer of masa is the first thing you can peel off the husk.” 

Unlike Miguel’s, Sandra tamales are not so traditional. Miguel’s pork tamales used to be my favorite, but for the past three years, Sandra has created a new tamal every Christmas. Two years ago it was bacon, cheese, and jalapeño. These are lip smacking good, especially recalentados with a fried huevo and café. Last year, Sandra’s new tamal was bellini and baby bella mushrooms with cheese. This delectable tamal is currently my favorite. It's rich and buttery and at the same time light, since it's meatless. And this year, Sandra went really wild and made blueberry tamales, strawberry tamales, and cherry and chocolate tamales. 

Sandra's Tamales de Dulce
I must admit, I am not a big fan of sweet tamales and when I first heard of the blueberry idea I was fascinated, yet doubtful. The outcome, though, was pretty tasty, with pineapple chunks, raisins and pecans in the blueberry mix. When I asked Sandra why she chose blueberry, she said she wanted to venture into the sweet tamal realm and that she had originally thought of making a peanut butter and jelly tamal, but there was limited masa and she had to be selective. She also had several people question her idea of using blueberries. Blueberries, according to some, were too fancy and seemed out of place in a Mexican tamal. "Why too fancy?" Sandra asked. "What? Mexicans don't eat blueberries? That's stupid." So, being the rebel that she is she forged ahead with her blueberries and her masa. 

Sandra's Raw Blueberry Masa
When I asked her where the blueberries came from and if they were fresh or frozen, she stared at me, stretched out her arms and said in a sing-song voice, “From the organic fields of the hidden valleys along the California Coast. I picked them myself.” Then she cracked up and added, “Eh! Just kidding. I don't want to ruin it for you, but it’s blueberry pie filling from the local supermarket.” What?! I was a little surprised, but it hasn't stopped me from eating Sandra's blueberry tamales or from being amazed at her unorthodox masa creations. 

It’s not just the blueberry pie filling, or the soft juicy mushrooms, or the extra manteca that gives the Campos Muñoz tamales their flavor; it’s also la mano de obra, la bateada, la energía, la creatividad and the team effort. Sandra’s sisters, Arcelia and Olga, and their cousin Dora also help con la tamaleada. Dora se pone a embarrar endless hojas. Arcelia se pone a limpiar, which is no small task in a tamal-making kitchen. Y Olga a veces le entra al mole y a veces no. Either way, she's a professional tamal tester. La mera-mera matriarch of the familia, Doña Socorro, however, sits and observes. Sometimes she plays cards while the tamales steam. She looks at the clock, "Ya mero acaban?" They're using her kitchen and she wants to go to sleep. I love Doña Socorro. She is hilarious and hardcore. Sandra tells the story of how her mother stopped making tamales as a protest many years ago. Sandra and other family members committed a grave sin one Christmas eve by going to King Taco. They just wanted a few tacos, but Doña Socorro was furious that anyone would go eat at King Taco when there were fresh tamales at home that she had slaved over. As punishment, Doña Socorro vowed to never-ever make tamales for her family again. It’s been about 20 years and she has kept her word. In the absence of the matriarch’s tamales, Sandra and Miguel stepped up to the plate and continued the tamal-making tradition. Bravo to them and to all the families who are continuing the tamal-making tradition, cada quien a su manera. 

Happy tamal season everyone and feliz año nuevo.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

What Nice Santas gave this year

What did you get for Xmas? I got a hi-tech ergo chair that will delay the gout and lumbar damage that comes from too many hours on the computer. I also got chingos of stuff in my stockings. Here's a sampling:

Santa Junot Díaz put this in my calcetín:
At LatinaLista, you can read what happens when two Mexican-American primos in San Jose, California become Latino superheroes--the stars of their own comic book series!
Aztec of the City follows the brave exploits of the two cousins as they defend and protect their city from evil forces in the year 2019. A bi-national effort, the comic book series’ illustrator, lives in Mexico while the writer is based in San Jose, California. Read more, including about ordering it.

From Spec Santa Thea Hutcheson into my stocking:
A Denver spec writer and friend of mine won the Apex Publications Christmas Flash Fiction contest, I mentioned earlier. Thea Hutcheson's 1-page story Stockings Hung on the Hearth is a great piece of emo. Read it to your guests and kids.
A Santa judge in AridZona put this in our progressive calcetín:
The notorious immigrant-hating sheriff, Joe Arpaio lost a court case and Justice won out. From the article, New Times blog Co-Founders Win $3.75 Million Settlement for 2007 False Arrests:
"The New Times blog co-founders announced that they will use the settlement proceeds to "help those who fight the good fight against government actors who attack the most vulnerable among us." Included in this list of recipient organizations are the Arizona ACLU, the Florence Project, and Puente. A contribution also will be made to the Electronic Frontier Foundation to help protect Internet free speech."

Now that you know the money will go to good causes, read the whole outrageous story about Arpaio's idiocy that gave the bloggers the money on a plata plato.

From Santa spec author Alex Shvartsman:
This is for Latino, and other, writers just breaking into publishing, especially spec. Shvartsman described two publishing sources that he (and I) recommend. Check these out for 2014 opportunities for getting your fiction published. He explains why:

"This is a quality magazine that is extremely supportive of diverse voices as well as new authors. They began to pay professional rates and are now holding a subscription drive in order to continue to publish and to pay writers fairly in 2014. Click for more details.

The Submission Grinder        
"The fine folks at Diabolical Plots have created an excellent alternative service called The Grinder, committed to keeping it free for everyone. While the Grinder is new and does not yet have the volume of users of Duotrope, they are growing fast and a much greater percentage of their users are neo-pro SF/F writers, and so the data for markets is generally as reliable or more reliable than Duotrope, even with fewer people reporting. They constantly update the site, introduce new and innovative features, and are extremely open to feedback. All in all, I am very thankful for the service they have provided to the SF/F writing community this year, and I encourage those of you who can afford it to kick in a few bucks and those who cannot to support them by uploading your submissions data, therefore improving the accuracy of their database."

From Santa City of Denver

I can't smoke dope and write fiction, except for free-verse nonsensical prose that's indecipherable the following morning. But for those free-spirits and others needing mind-expanding or medicinal assistance, a dozen retail marijuana shops were approved to open next week. Find out about the first unrestricted, publically approved mota locations since this land was taken from the indios.

From Santa Voodoo Doll:
When my wife and I were in Portland this year, we didn't get in the long lines at this over-the-top-American-excess shop. But now we can do it in Denver. This place is on Sedano's gluten kill-list, but if you can get an okay from your cardiologist, here's some of the terminal offerings:
My favorite, the Bacon Maple Bar doughnut - raised yeast doughnut with maple frosting and bacon on top!
Other questionable items include the Loop doughnut - raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and Fruit Loops;
the Triple chocolate penetration doughnut - chocolate cake doughnut with chocolate frosting and coco-puffs; the Diablos Rex doughnut - chocolate cake doughnut with chocolate frosting, red sprinkles, vanilla pentagram and chocolate chips in the middle and the Mexican Hot Chocolate doughnut - the Chocolate Cake doughnut dusted in cinnamon sugar and cayenne pepper!
With the Tex-Ass Challenge doughnut, you can skip your next blood-pressure test: Giant Doughnut equals 6 dougnuts. If you eat this in 80 seconds or less, you get your money back! [But not with your arteries cleared.]

From Santa Esquire Magazine:
If your familia gatherings also gave you a flu or cold, you might check out this guide "for getting fkd up on over the counter medicine for as long as is socially and medically acceptable.
"Theraflu - This stuff is incredible. While the daytime stuff surely will do a number on your cold or flu, the nighttime stuff sends you on a wild goose chase of drug-induced joy that will make you feel as if you're living in the soundtrack to the movie Drive.
"Airborne - Completely doesn't work. Might as well just hand someone $8 and tell them to slap you in the face with it. ZICAM has a cool name and works really well for about an hour before completely giving up.
"Chicken Soup - What could be better than a nice hot bowl of nutritious and wholesome chicken soup to make you feel better? A lot of things. Most of them are available over the counter. Save your soup for when you want to write a dystopian novel by candlelight. 
"Cold-Eeze has Zinc in it. You know what else has Zinc in it? Nickels. Eat a bag of nickels.
"Vicks - Do you like having a chest that smells like a permanent marker?
"Alka Seltzer Plus - Plop plop, fizz fizz, say hello to at least two hours of relaxation.
"Hot Toddy - two shots of whiskey (floating in as much hot water) masquerading as a seasonal beverage. The water keeps you hydrated, while the whiskey gets you drunk enough to forget you have the flu."
Read the entire list that doesn't pretend to be of any medical value. 

Al final: I'm sticking these in Manuel Ramo's calcetín as follow-up to his Writer Wisdom post from yesterday; they are not of my making:
"A ticket to the writing game is a box seat in a stadium of self-doubt."
"If you’re not your own best editor, someone else will come along with a dull blade."

Es todo, este año,

Friday, December 27, 2013

Writer Wisdom

Denver's Mutiny Now Bookstore - Immortality for Writers

Periodically here on La Bloga I offer writing tips from writers - advice like "cut your beautiful sentences" (Georges Simenon) or Elmore Leonard's "leave out the part the readers will skip." For my end-of-year post I've collected helpful advice from a variety of writers that is either something they've learned through their own experience or something they picked up from someone else that they now want to pass on to help other writers -- exclusively on La Bloga! These eleven authors have proven track records -- best-sellers, awards, reader popularity -- and they are all friends of La Bloga. Many have been interviewed or spotlighted by La Bloga and several have contributed their own thoughts to La Bloga articles. I appreciate the great cooperation and honest advice and guidance these writers have contributed by taking time out from busy holiday schedules to offer a bit of wisdom to newer, less experienced or soon-to-be writers. Actually, I think any writer, of any experience level, can benefit from the insights of colleagues and friends. It never hurts to take stock, as they say. This is a terrific way to start 2014.

You might think about saving this column on a flash drive or, if you're in a retro mood, printing and sticking it on your bulletin board for future reference. Especially for those late nights or early mornings when the words refuse to cooperate.  Just sayin' ...

Manuel Ramos

Mario Acevedo

"This is a football." That's what Vince Lombardi said in his famous speech when tasked to turn the Green Bay Packers from losers into winners. Lombardi was emphasizing the need to get back to basics and in doing so, he wasn't telling his players anything they hadn't heard before. With my advice I'm not telling you anything new but with all the noise surrounding writing and publishing it's important to reflect on the fundamentals. Nobody knows nothin'. For every hard and fast rule the writing pundits throw at you, there is always a successful exception. And most of these pundits have never published anything. Write the kind of stories that invigorate your juices and don't apologize about them. Steampunk zombies? Dinosaur erotica? Inspirational space poetry? Go for it.

Read a lot. Write a lot.

Don't get discouraged. Success has its own schedule. I've seen many stories sit unloved for years and then wham! -- the magic happens. But if you don't write, nothing will happen. Stop making excuses. If writing is important to you, then do what it takes to finish your stories.

Mario Acevedo is the bestselling author of The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, X-Rated Bloodsuckers, The Undead Kama Sutra and other titles in his popular Felix Gomez private eye series. A former infantry and aviation officer, engineer, and art teacher to incarcerated felons, he also has published short stories and graphic novels.


Kathleen Alcalá

Save the baby! Don’t throw it out with the bathwater. Often when I write, part of my brain is saying “This is the worst thing I have ever written…” over and over again. Don’t throw it away. Put it away until the next day, when you will find a word here, a phrase there, that can be salvaged and worked into something new. Same with longer pieces: put them away for a week or so, then go back and edit them into shape.

Kathleen Alcalá is the author of five books set in the Southwest and Mexico. She will be an honoree of Con Tinta along with Jesus M. Maldonado in 2014 at the AWP Annual Conference.


Rudolfo Anaya 

Write! Write! Write! And support our Chicana/o writers. 

Rudolfo Anaya is best known for his 1972 novel Bless Me, Ultima. He is considered one of the founders of the canon of contemporary Chicano literature.


Lucha Corpi

I was 24 and going through a very painful divorce. I weighed 93 lbs. The nurse at my doctor's office gave me a priority card to display on my refrigerator door. It said: "When all else fails, eat." Three years and 25 lbs. later, I felt it was time to put away the card. By then I had been writing poetry and short narrative for awhile and knew that I was, and would forever be and want to be, a poet and a writer. A few months later, I replaced it with a new priority card, with my own advice on it: "No pretexts. Don't get to your deathbed saying, 'I could have written.'" It still greets me from its place on the wall I face every day as I sit down to write. 

Lucha Corpi: "Although this confession is written exclusively for La Bloga, look for other stories and personal essays in my new book, Confessions of a Book Burner, available March 31, 2014, from Arte Público Press."


Don't get caught in the trap of thinking your writing is good because your friends and/or spouse think it is good. Unless your friends are professional writers and/or editors, their opinions don't count. Be professional and don't rely on biased feedback.

Sarah Cortez is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, and the author/editor of nine books, ranging from lyric poetry to crime fiction to memoir. She has published and edited for Akashic Press, Arte Público Press, and Texas Review Press. She writes for the young adult market and the adult market.

Don't take yourself seriously as a writer, take yourself sincerely.

Tim Z. Hernandez is a poet, novelist, and performance artist whose awards include the 2006 American Book Award, the 2010 Premio Aztlán Prize in Fiction, and the James Duval Phelan Award. His latest book is Mañana Means Heaven.


Rolando Hinojosa 

Read. Read. Read. Read everything--trash, classics, good and bad, see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window. This isn't mine; it's Faulkner's. I always pass this on to beginning writers.

Rolando Hinojosa is the acclaimed author of the seminal Chicano novels known as the Klail City Death Trip Series. He says this about his current project: "Am working on what may be the final novel in the Klail City Death Trip Series. It will involve graft on both sides of the Rio Grande with no preaching on my part. A straightforward tale involving a crooked governor on the Mexican side and the help furnished by Buenrostro and his crew who investigate the doings by elected officials in Belken County."

R. Narvaez

If you didn't write today, don't feel bad. There's always next lifetime to be a successful writer, right? Or, the more you write, the more you write. Which may sounds ridiculous but which makes sense when you do it.

R. Narvaez's book, Roachkiller and Other Stories, received the 2013 Spinetingler Award for Best Anthology/Short Story Collection and the 2013 International Latino Book Award for Best eBook/Fiction.


Two quotations:  the first, from Doris Lessing, has guided me whenever I felt overwhelmed by the empty page or blank screen in front of me. She wrote in The Golden Notebook, "What does it matter if you fail?  Why are you so arrogant? Just begin."  The other is attributed to Gandhi and helps me through those moments when I wonder why I bother to write books that almost no one will read.  He said, "Whatever you do will be insignificant, but its is very important that you do it."

 Michael Nava is the author of an acclaimed series of seven novels featuring gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios that won seven Lambda Literary Awards. His forthcoming novel, The City of Palaces, is set in Mexico City in the years just before and at the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. It will be published this spring by the University of Wisconsin Press. He can be reached though his Facebook page, “Michael Nava, Writer” or his website: http://michaelnavawriter.com


Emma Pérez

In 1997, my writing buddy, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, recommended a book that became vital for my writing process--A Writer's Time:  Making the Time to Write, by Kenneth Atchity. He offers a number of tidbits including: churn out the first draft without stopping to revise; when you begin the revision process, cut off the fish head, meaning, about the first 30 pages are background, hence a slow start. Cut them! The key advice, however, is: DISCIPLINE, not a muse and not talent, but sustaining a schedule and showing up daily to write. Finally, remember that writing is a craft to be learned. I believe that if you work at the craft, you'll see the rewards in your final draft. I also believe in emotional truths, excavating your psyche to unravel things that you ordinarily wouldn't want to share. Those are the emotional truths that resonate for us as writers and readers and will contribute to your own unique voice.

Emma Pérez, author of Gulf Dreams; Forgetting the Alamo, Or, Blood Memory; and forthcoming, Electra's Complex: An Erotic Mystery, with Bella Books, fall 2014.


Sergio Troncoso

Write about your community, but dig deep, dig into taboos, dig into the unsaid. The biggest fight you will have will be against self-censorship, and if any writer criticizes you for not being an 'authentic Latino or Latina' or an 'authentic Chicano or Chicana,' they are simply trying to control you and censor you. There is no such thing as an authentic Latino/a or an authentic Chicano/a, and our community needs and demands a variety of voices. Work on your craft first by reading widely, reading poetry if you are not a poet, or reading fiction if you are not a fiction writer, or reading Russian literature after you have read Latino literature. Work on your craft by understanding your weaknesses, and focusing on them. Work on your craft by experimenting with your prose and sentence structure (the micro), and by trying out different modes of storytelling (the macro). Finally, writing is not about becoming a personality, or getting a lucrative book deal, or acquiring groupies. That's the power going to your head. Writing is about exploring ideas, psyches, ways of being. Writing is about opening up a space that has never been opened before.

Sergio Troncoso is the author of five books. From This Wicked Patch of Dust was chosen as one of the Best Books of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews, and Crossing Borders: Personal Essays won the Bronze Award for Essays from ForeWord Reviews. A new, revised version of his novel, The Nature of Truth, will be published in 2014. He is a resident faculty member of the Yale Writers' Conference.